The New York Islanders are going to the playoffs, but a poorly timed slide likely will cost them home-ice advantage.
With two games remaining, the Islanders are fourth in the East Division and hope they can reverse some of their recent struggles Saturday night when they host the New Jersey Devils in their final regular-season game at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y.
The Islanders (31-17-6, 68 points) are three points behind the third-place Boston Bruins, who have three games remaining and host the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon. The Islanders could be eliminated from catching the second-place Washington Capitals, who will take a five-point lead into their Friday night game with the Philadelphia Flyers.
New York is in this position because of its diminished quality of play in recent weeks. A nine-game winning streak gave the Islanders a four-point lead on Washington on March 14, and a four-game winning streak gave New York a two-point lead on Washington with 16 games remaining on April 8.
Since their 3-2 shootout win over Philadelphia on April 8, the Islanders are 5-7-2 over their past 12 games. Since a 6-1 win over the Rangers on April 20, when they were tied for first with Washington, the Islanders are 2-4-2.
The only two wins in that span are shutouts over the Rangers by a combined 7-0. The Islanders have nine other goals in the eight-game slide and have been held to two goals or less four times.
On Thursday, the Islanders never led and suffered a 2-1 loss to the Devils. Anthony Beauvillier scored the lone goal in the second period, but the Islanders could not do much else offensively with their 33 shots on goal two nights after producing a season-high 48 in a shootout loss at Buffalo on Tuesday.
“We’ve got to be better,” New York coach Barry Trotz said. “We’ve got to execute better. We have to wrap our minds around getting prepared for the playoffs, not just waiting for it, because it’s not a switch.”
Mathew Barzal returned Thursday after sitting out Tuesday’s loss in Buffalo as a healthy scratch. Barzal leads the Islanders with 41 points but has two goals over his past 16 contest since his hat trick on April 1 against Washington.
The Devils (19-28-7, 45 points) have seemingly turned on a switch in the final weeks of a disappointing season.
New Jersey went 0-9-1 from April 9-24, and that was part of a 2-13-3 skid that started March 25. Since the skid ended with a 4-3 shootout loss in Philadelphia on April 25, the Devils are 5-1-0.
During the six-game surge, the Devils have 21 goals. On Thursday, Pavel Zacha scored late in the first period, Michael McLeod scored late in the second, and MacKenzie Blackwood made 32 saves to win his fifth straight start.
“We’re playing some good hockey as of late, beating some pretty big teams that could go pretty far in the playoffs,” McLeod said. “That’s huge for us heading into the offseason, getting that confidence as a team that we could beat these teams, and if we play the right way, we’re going to get the results we want.”
–Field Level Media